Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Grocery grumblings

When we last lived together in LA, we did a llot of our grocery shopping at super expensive, gourmet, organic, local, hand knitted, artisanal grocers like Bristol Farms or Pacific Coast Greens.

Sadly, the days of spluffing $75 on a home cooked dinner for two are over. We've got a college fund to save for now, after all.

However we are a bit too fancy for our own good. Ralph's, or Von's, or any of those common-or-garden supermarkets don't quite cut it. For one thing, they don't always stock European butter. They are also often short on good fresh seafood. And their ground meats all contain mysterious 'natural flavourings' i.e. '100% ground turkey with natural flavourings'. I assume the fact they need to call them out on the packaging means these are not the natural flavourings which, um, naturally occur within turkey. Needless to say, I miss Saltburn and Sainos and the butcher very much, as I stand tutting to myself in the aisle.

On the advice of some people who are unintimidated by enormous warehouses, we tried CostCo. The one near us hosts a fresh fish guy every Friday and Saturday. You could almost call it a fishmonger pop-up store. Except that it's in a CostCo. The fish is genuinely fresh and you can buy Kerrygold butter in bulk there too.

And yet... and yet there's something just too depressing about shopping in CostCo. It's that moment when you find yourself clutching a 6lb packet of spaghetti, saying 'this is so cheap!' and realising you don't have the cupboard space for it – because you're not running an Italian restaurant. And you put it down and shuffle on and think 'that's another 30 seconds minutes of my life I'll never get back'. That and feeling a bit wired from the horrible lighting and all the sugary samples I couldn't resist.

So it is that we came to track down our nearest Korean grocery. TLOML loves a good Korean grocery, and tells me they are famously inexpensive, for Koreans are famously smart shoppers. Plus they have an incredible range of seafood including plenty of live shellfish, and some obscure species to boot.

We did a big shop, stocked up on the good kim chee and some very inexpensive oils and fruit and veg. But I didn't like it. It was packed, and overstocked, and full of people who'd been there a million times before and know where everything was and what the heck everything was too.

As I stood, baffled by the tea selection and stumped by the shellfish, I was jostled constantly. I don't speak Korean but I'd hazard a guess that the murmur as they passed me was “Look at this pale faced giant – she looks like she's never seen a geoduck in her life!”.

Or what to do with a geoduck?

Am I the only one here who doesn't know what balloon tea is?
TLOML can handle the Korean market, and he has the mental strength for CostCo too. But when it's my turn to pick up the groceries, I'm afraid it's back to Ralph's or Von's. Or if I'm feeling a bit extravagant, Bristol Farms.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Flying the flag

It's normal here to fly a flag outside your home. Most are stars and stripes, though you do also see the odd Californian bear or some university colours.

Many, if not most, houses are equipped with a flagpole or a flagpole stand. This house is one of the 30% of homes on our street with the Stars and Stripes proudly displayed outside.

The Sugar Cube has a little flag pole holder thingy by the front door too. I was mystified by it, but TLOML knew exactly what to do with it.

And this is what he did:

I must admit, I am slightly embarrassed. It's just not very, um, British, to fly a British flag. I mean, unless you're an England fan during the World Cup of course...
On balance, I think I'll let friendliness and warmth - if not actual national pride - win over and leave the flag up, to let the neighbours know there's a new family on the street, and we're a bit British. Also I like the way he sings God Save the Queen with Lady P each morning when he puts the flag up.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Settling In

As you know I do love a routine. A rut  is a comfortable place for me to be. And we've quickly established one here. I often get up early to work, and take work calls in the evenings too. So I always walk away from my desk around 7am for a leisurely breakfast and lengthy conversation about animal sounds with Lady P. I love that time together, when she's full of the news from her dreams and her d├ęcor ('hoo hoo' for the owl, and so on), and thrilled by the birds flying over the patio, and her morning milk, and pushing her little cart around. It's also the perfect time to skype my much-missed little sister and catch up on her news, which is more intelligible.

Whenever I can, I log off early too, so I can dispatch Dani, the nanny and get some more quality time with Lady P. We usually go for a walk, run some errands, and wander along the Strand. There's a swing set there that Dani won't use for fear of the buggy being stolen (it's not very sand friendly, so you have to leave it by the path while you use the swings which are about 30 feet away). Dani's from Rio, so I can understand her concern – I was once mugged by a 6 year old on Copacabana beach – but this is Hermosa, so I park up the buggy and forget about it while Lady P kicks excitedly as soon as she sees the swing set. That wade across the 30 feet of sand must feel like an eternity to her, and she's usually fit to burst by the time we reach the swing set. Sometimes we go home via the shops, sometimes we take the scenic route up a walk street or along the woodchip path. Whatever we do it is a highlight of my day, as Lady P is such good company and so full of wonder at the stuff we pass: overhead phone wires, dogs, people playing volleyball and the apple stand at Von's are all sources of delight.
Trundling along the Strand

The swings I like best

So the fact that I'm away with work, on the East Coast from Sunday night till Friday this week, is making me a bit miserable. What's worse is that our container is finally ready for delivery, which means TLOML has to deal with the hassle of that on his own. That's a double blow because I feel guilty for not being there to help, and also anxiety about where he'll put things without me there to micromanage the unpack. I have delivered a strict briefing about the kitchen system, but fear some of the details may have fallen on deaf ears.

Ah well, it's not all bad news. There are at least three silver linings in the cloud: 1) I get to have dinner with my favourite New Yorker 2) When I'm back we will be truly settled, sofa, egg timer and all. And 3) I intend to clawback all the extra hours I'm now 'owed' from this week of travel and spend them all hanging out with Lady P. In a fully furnished Sugar Cube!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Happy St Patrick's Day

What's that? You're not Irish? Doesn't matter. On St Patrick's Day – and for about a month beforehand, it seems – everyone is a little bit Irish. At least, that's how it goes in Hermosa Beach.

Starved of a decent consumer event for over a month, the people who love to decorate their doors and windows with seasonal items are thrilled to take their Valentine's Day bobbins and festoon their homes with shamrocks. Java Man, our local coffee shop, has been displaying the colours of the season for a couple of weeks already.

And the good people of Hermosa Beach have been gearing up for the parade for about a month, as I was reminded every time I passed this banner, or caught a glimpse of a green float being worked on in the car park lot of some clubhouse or community centre or other.
 I was looking forward to it too, and I wasn't disappointed. It was brilliant. Pier Avenue (our high street) was lined with happy people enjoying the parade. And there was a lot of it to enjoy. Marching bands, bagpiping policemen, 'man of the year' (not sure on who's criteria) riding high in the back of a convertible, a troupe of inexplicably line dancing children, the South Bay Parents of Multiples – I could go on – everyone was there. I'm sorry to say Saltburn's 'Big Switch On' pales by comparison.

And everyone was wearing green. Except me and Lady P. Lady P's two green items of clothing were both in the wash. But my wardrobe choice was deliberate. I didn't wear green because, well, I'm not Irish and thought it was a bit much to wear green on St Patrick's Day. Sort of like wearing red hearts on Valentine's Day. Silly me. Actually that counts as churlish, buzzkill, Scrooge-esque behaviour it turns out. Everyone wears green and if you don't wear green, people can apparently pinch you. Which is the meaning behind the many green t-shirts I saw bearing the legend 'You pinch, I punch!'

Indeed. Who knew? Well, I guess it takes a true Irish person to know these traditions and as I said, I'm not Irish. Although next year, like the rest of Hermosa Beach, I'm going to pretend I am. It's a lot more fun that way.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Office Space

TLOML and I are lucky enough to work from home. This is a nice perk which serves to counteract the fact that we both have to travel a fair amount. I also have conference calls with the East Cosat at 6am or 7am a couple of times a week, and the occasional 8pm or 9pm call with colleagues in India. Being able to work from home, and claw that time back by taking a lunchtime run, or downing tools at 4pm to play with Lady P, makes this all okay.

The only downside of working from home is that you have to turn a bit of your house into an office. A real office, with a filing cabinet. a printer and a shredder and a proper desk and a decent office chair too. Like most people we've always squeezed our home office into the guest room - or vice versa, more accurately. Which works, but as I said, ours is a pretty significant office set up. It has always been a squish. Our guests usually have to use one of our desks as a nightstand, and may occasionally be woken at 6am by the sound of the printer whirring away.

Possibly the very best thing about the Sugar Cube is that it has a separate building in the backyard that we can use as an office. So we have become commuters. This footpath to the end of the garden represents our daily commute:

The office has no plumbing, so can't be used as a guest room. But it does have plenty of space for TLOML's business, including a couple of desks for co-workers. And I have my own little corner, tucked away from him, so my boring Big Corp calls don't distract him from growing his business empire. From my desk I have a view of the top of the grapevines, and the occasional butterfly. (I will also be able to keep an eye on the growing wasp risk as the weather warms up and fruit starts to appear. Vigilance will be key).

My corner
This lovely building was formerly an artist's studio, so it is rather sad that we are now using it for the business of law and management consulting. Maybe one day, when we've made our millions, we'll use it for more creative endeavours. For now, though, it is the perfect home office.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Hot Hermosan Topics

There are a couple of hot topics dominating the local news here. As you know, I love a bit of local news, so I have enjoyed reading the debates.

Hot topic number one is whether the person who chalks messages like the one shown below along the strand is an artist, a public nuisance, or an inspiration. Should she be given the keys to the city, or banned for life? I'll steer clear of politics here and declare myself neutral.
 But I will say it's nice to live somewhere where the local nuisance is something so benign.

The other hot topic is less approachable. It's about whether the E&B oil company should be allowed to drill in Hermosa. A lot of people say no, and say so by festooning their house with one of these signs:

Hermosa, by the way, means beautiful. But it also is a byword for the local beachy, surfy, vaguely alternative way of life. So the signs have a double meaning: protect the natural beauty of Hermosa, and keep its funky spirit alive too.

Unsure whether we too should be flying a 'Keep Hermosa Hermosa' flag or not, TLOML and I went to City Hall this weekend to find out more. I skim read the Executive Summary of three telephone directory sized reports on Environmental Impact, Cost Benefit Analysis, and Health Impact. What it apparently boils down to is that the city will make a huge amount of money if the drilling goes ahead. But it will also smell like ass and probably become a toxic place to live in the process.

I must admit my ears pricked up when I heard that house prices would take a hit locally if the drilling goes ahead - maybe we can afford to buy here before I turn 60! Then I decided that I wouldn't like to live next to a dirty, smelly, noisy oil 'recovery' yard - even in Hermosa.

I don't think we're going to buy the sign, for it would spoil the Sugar Cube's pleasing aesthetic. But I will be buying a t-shirt and a cap at least.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Hermosa's homeless (cat) problem

Even homeless cats have a nice life in Hermosa.

This lucky git and his crew live in the greenbelt - the woodchipped, tree lined path which swooshes down from the north eastern tip of Manhattan Beach to Hermosa's south western edge. They are on the stretch of greenbelt that I pass through when I trundle Lady P along to Von's to get our cheese grated.

I like how they roll. They are cats. They can live wild pretty easily, especially somewhere where it doesn't rain often and there are plenty of small edible creatures around. And yet they have hoodwinked the good people of Hermosa Beach into catering for them and cushioning their hedgerow while they're at it.

It made me think of Jack. Dear, lazy, fat old Jack. Our lovely babysitter back in Saltburn was soft enough to take him in. She'd spent enough time on the sofa with him, squashing her like the 20lb deadweight he is, to know what she was in for, and we were very happy that he had such a good home to go to.

I fear she doesn't have our discipline with his fitness regime. He has already hoodwinked her into letting him eat scallops off her plate. Well, if he does eat her out of house and home, perhaps she can stick him in on a towel, in a hedge, with a sign and let the good people of Saltburn chip in.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Hermosa Haves and Have Nots

There are houses like this:

And houses like this:
(Note that a full third of the house's width is out of shot)

And houses like ours, a single story white box. Perfectly charming and also utterly dwarfed by the proper big houses on either side.

And there are houses like the one two doors up from us which I think (hope!) might be owned by a lesser known Kardashian:

And then there are all the other little single story scruffboxes on our block which are what's known locally as 'tear downs'. Only they haven't been torn down because someone still lives there.

The scruffy little single story homes typically have windchimes, and 'This Way to the Beach' on the front deck. Also a couple of mismatched, faded deck chairs - usually those plastic Adirondack ones from Home Depot. Some dusty succulents and a couple of rusted bikes leaning against the wall.

The posh homes are like strangely proportioned Spanish castles, or glossy hotels, or both. They restrict their displays of boho beachiness to hiring an artist to paint their house number on the kerb:

Here's something you see a lot in Hermosa too: a scruffy little cottage next to a beautiful shiny big house.

It seems to me that in Hermosa the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Have-a-bit-but-not-quite-all-we-want-yet, live side by side. And it's so darn nice (see earlier posts) that even the Have-Nots I think have really got a lot.